Asus ROG Phone 3: Hands-on with the most powerful Android phone


The Asus ROG Phone 3 is designed for games like PUBG Mobile. But it is also a preview of features that other more mainstream phones might adopt over the next year or two.


Patrick Holland/CNET

Gaming phones have a niche audience, but their features are often adopted by more mainstream phones later down the line. A great example of this are displays with high refresh rates, which first showed up in 2017’s Razer Phone and the original Asus ROG phone in 2018. Now phones like the Galaxy S20, the OnePlus 88 ProMotorola Edge and Edge Plus all have high refresh rate screens.

Asus‘ newest gaming phone is the third iteration of the aforementioned ROG phone, known as the ROG Phone 3. The phone takes all its hardware and cranks it up to the next level, with the aim of having the best performance of any Android phone. At the ROG 3’s heart is the new Snapdragon 865 Plus processor that allows it to be 10% faster than the regular 865 processor found in other premium Android phones.

After spending time with it, I found that the ROG 3 does in fact live up to its claims and is truly the most powerful Android phone we’ve ever tested to date. But the performance doesn’t stop there. The ROG 3 has more RAM than most people’s laptops and one of the largest batteries found on any phone today.

Asus lent us a preproduction ROG 3 with preproduction software and as such I can only give an in-depth hands-on of the phone instead of a fully rated review. In fact, the final software is due out on the same day this story publishes. Also, Asus hasn’t announced a price for the ROG 3 — which is another reason why I can’t give an official value judgement. If it has the same $900 price tag as last year’s Asus ROG Phone 2 though, I’d have no hesitation recommending it. Heck, with the 5G support, I can see this justifiably being a $1,000 phone. The Asus ROG Phone 3 will likely be available in the US this fall.

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Asus ROG 3 is the most powerful Android phone

The ROG 3 leaves all other Android phones in the dust. Its combination of that 865 Plus processor, 16GB of RAM (though there is also a 12GB version) and UFS 3.1 storage makes this an absolute monster.

When I put the phone into X mode (aka performance mode), it’s not only faster than every Android phone we’ve tested this year, I can use it for long periods of time for gaming without experiencing any dip in performance.

Asus said that we could test the performance of the preproduction ROG 3. So we did. My review sample’s software build is version number 17.0822.2005.11. Below are the results of our performance tests so you can see how it stacked up against a handful of Snapdragon 865-powered flagship phones.

3DMark Slingshot Unlimited

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.5.0 single-core

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.5.0 multicore

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

When I’m not gaming, all that power helps apps open up fast and animations look buttery smooth. Its 144Hz display (which I’ll get into later) along with everything else about this phone makes the rest of my world seem slow now. This kind of peppiness and speed at my fingertips is absolutely addictive and I’m not sure how I’ll go back to a “slower” phone.

Asus ROG phone 3

X mode lets the Snapdragon 865 Plus processor push itself to the max. An innovative cooling system and separate fan that you attach help keep the ROG 3 performing at high speeds for long periods of time.


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The ROG 3’s buttery smooth 144Hz display

It’s near impossible to describe how “alive” a 144Hz screen looks like. Though the ROG 3 isn’t the first phone with a 144Hz screen (that honor goes to the RedMagic 5G phone) it’s still compelling. When I go back to my work phone with its 60Hz display, it looks so much more blurry and is almost frustrating to use.

The screen has a touch rate of 270Hz as well, which means when your finger taps or swipes on it, that the phone registers them as quickly as possible. This makes gameplay seem a lot faster and I never felt I was waiting around for a gun to fire or a jump to happen after tapping on the screen.

Asus ROG phone 3

The Asus ROG Phone 3 has a screen with a 144Hz refresh rate. Graphics and animation look smooth and engrossing.


Patrick Holland/CNET

And if onscreen controls aren’t enough, there is the third generation of AirTriggers that lets you use the sides of the phone like shoulder buttons. You can assign on-screen controls to the AirTriggers. And you can use the AirTriggers as buttons or swipes, which made gameplay in PUBG Mobile more immersive and more like a game controller.

But the screen isn’t perfect. The quality of the ROG 3’s 6.59-inch AMOLED is good, but it can be sharper. It still has an HD resolution and I wish text appeared more crisp. 

The Asus ROG Phone 3 has a gigantic battery

The ROG 3 is powered by a 6,000mAh battery. So you get the best Android performance without sacrificing on battery life.

I ran a looped video test at 50% brightness and the refresh rate set at 144Hz in Airplane mode and the ROG 3 lasted 24 hours and 3 minutes. While we have more tests to run — and I’ll update this piece when those numbers come in — that is impressive.

Obviously when gaming, the phone isn’t going to last 24 hours straight. But I had no problem making it through a 2.5-hour gaming marathon playing PUBG Mobile, Asphalt 9, Alto’s Odyssey and Sdorica. 

Asus ROG phone 3

The Asus ROG Phone 3’s heft comes in-part from its 6,000mAh battery.


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On top of that, the ROG 3 has the most extensive options for battery care and longevity that I’ve seen on any phone. There are a variety of ways to optimize the battery life, including various power and savings modes, customizable schedules for power mode and restrictions on battery charging. 

Asus ROG Phone 3 is the same chunky behemoth

As impressive as the specs are on the ROG 3, perhaps the most impressive thing Asus did was to make it exactly the same size and shape as last year’s ROG 2. That means it can take advantage of all of the same numerous accessories Asus makes for ROG phones like cases and gamepads. Though Asus has new versions of most of its ROG accessories to tempt you and your wallet further.

This also means that the ROG 3 has the same chunky behemoth heft as before. It weighs over half a pound, so if you’re a small phone lover, just look away. Though I wouldn’t recommend fitting it in small jeans pockets and going about my day, the heft feels good, especially when playing games. 

Despite the same size and shape, there are some differences in the bodies of the ROG 3 and ROG 2. Namely, there’s no headphone jack on the ROG 3 unless you use the included fan attachment. Also, it has a bigger camera bump. The Asus ROG Phone 3 doesn’t have an IP rating for dust or water resistance and lacks wireless charging.

As for its aesthetics, the ROG 3 is sleek and even a touch understated compared to the ROG 2. The copper heat sink sits under a transparent sliver of the Gorilla Glass 3 back, which I thought looked clever. It’s kind of like how Lamborghini’s uses a glass cover over their engines. In fact both, the ROG 3 and a Lamborghini share a similar over-the-topness when it comes to style and performance.

The ROG 3 sports 5G

While gaming is the ROG’s main focus, it is also a 5G phone and will work on US carriers that offer sub-6 5G, which includes AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. The area where I live doesn’t have 5G coverage, but I’m excited to see how the battery handles those demands.

The ROG 3’s triple rear cameras

Though the phone has the best camera array on any Asus ROG phone to date, the phone’s triple rear cameras are ultimately just decent. It’s not going to be named the best camera of 2020 or even close.

Asus ROG phone 3

There are three rear cameras: a main 64-megapixel camera, an ultrawide-angle camera and a macro camera.


Patrick Holland/CNET

Photos from the main 64-megapixel camera look good, especially when taken with HDR. Skin is smoothed a bit more than I’d prefer and colors skew a tad magenta.

Asus ROG phone 3

The main 64-megapixel camera uses pixel-binning to create detailed 16-megapixel photos in good and medium lighting.


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Asus ROG phone 3

The ROG 3 can capture a lot of detail in good light.


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Asus ROG phone 3

The ROG 3 renders skin rather soft. Some people may prefer this, but I’m not one of them.


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There is a night mode which actually produces some stellar shots.

Asus ROG phone 3

Night mode on the ROG 3 really impressed me.


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The ultrawide angle camera is solid and matches the main camera more so than last year’s ROG 2. This means that the visual difference in image quality is not as noticeable between the main and ultrawide cameras.

Asus ROG phone 3

The ultrawide camera can make subjects look extra dramatic.


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Asus ROG phone 3

The main camera offers up better detail and dynamic range than the ultrawide. Though the ultrawide camera comes close to capturing similar colors. Also, notice the magenta hue in the sky.


Patrick Holland/CNET

And then there’s the macro camera, which is fun to use but feels a bit more like a gimmick because it’s not something I’d use a lot versus say a telephoto camera.

Impressively, the ROG 3 can shoot 8K video. Take a look at the video above to see 8K video straight out of the Asus ROG Phone 3. In some situations it looks good, but there is a lot of banding — especially when shooting a sky or in low-light situations.

The ROG 3’s other improvements

Compared to the ROG 2, the ROG 3 makes solid tweaks and improvements to pretty much everything. It runs Android 10 with Asus ZenUI and there’s a dark mode too. 

The phone’s detachable fan, which is called the AeroActive Cooler, now has a kickstand. And just like previous ROG phones, there is a second USB-C port/accessory port on the left side for horizontal gameplay. The ROG 3 comes with a 30W charger and you get three months of Google Stadia Pro for free.

I look forward to testing the Asus ROG 3 more especially when its final software comes out. 

Asus ROG Phone 3 specs vs. Motorola Edge Plus, Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, OnePlus 8 Pro, LG V60 ThinQ

Asus ROG Phone 3 Motorola Edge Plus Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra OnePlus 8 Pro LG V60 ThinQ 5G
Display size, resolution 6.59-inch AMOLED; 2,340×1,080 pixels 6.7-inch FHD OLED 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X 6.78-inch AMOLED; 1,440×3,168 pixels 6.8-inch OLED; 2,460×1,080 pixels
Pixel density 391ppi TBA 511ppi 513ppi 395ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.73 x 3.07 x 0.39 in 6.34 x 2.81 x 0.38 in 2.99 x 6.57 x 0.35 in 6.51 x 2.93 x 0.35 in 6.67 x 3.06 x 0.35 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 171 x 78 x 9.85mm 161.1 x 71.4 x 9.6 mm 76.0 x 166.9 x 8.8mm 165 x 74.4 x 8.5 mm 169.3 x 77.6 x 8.79mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 8.48 oz; 240g 7.16 oz; 203g 7.76 oz; 220g 7.02 oz; 199g 7.72 oz; 218g
Mobile software Android 10 Android 10 Android 10 Android 10 Android 10
Camera 64-megapixel (main), 13-megapixel (ultrawide), 5-megapixel (macro) 108-megapixel (standard), 8-megapixel (telephotos), 16-megapixel (macro/ultrawide-angle) 108-megapixel (wide-angle), 48-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), time-of-flight camera 48-megapixel (standard), 48-megapixel (ultrawide), 8-megapixel (telephoto), 5-megapixel (‘color filter’) 64-megapixel (standard), 13-megapixel (wide-angle), time-of-flight camera
Front-facing camera 24-megapixel 25-megapixel 40-megapixel 16-megapixel 10-megapixel (standard)
Video capture 8K 6K 8K 4K 8K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 64-bit octa-core processor (Max 2.7GHz + 2.5 GHz + 2.0 GHz) Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
Storage 512GB (UFS 3.1) 256GB 128GB, 512GB 128GB, 256GB 128GB
RAM 12GB, 16GB 12GB 12GB, 16GB 8GB, 12GB 8GB
Expandable storage No Up to 1TB Up to 1TB No 2TB
Battery 6,000mAh 5,000mAh 5,000mAh 4,510mAh 5,000mAh
Fingerprint sensor In-screen In-screen In-screen In-screen In-screen
Connector USB C USB-C USB-C USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack No Yes No No Yes
Special features 5G enabled, 144Hz refresh rate display, 30W fast charging vis Quick Charge 4.0, AirTriggers, detachable fan with built-in headphone jack 5G enabled 5G enabled; 120Hz refresh rate; 100X zoom; water resistant (IP68) 5G enabled; Warp Charge; reverse wireless charging; water resistant (IP68); 120Hz refresh rate 5G connectivity; water resistant (IP68); wireless charging, Fast Charging 4.0
Price off-contract (USD) TBD $999 Verizon exclusive $1,399 (128GB), $1,599 (512GB) $899 (8GB RAM/128GB), $999 (12GB RAM/256GB) $800 (without Dual Screen case); $900-$950 (with)



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